The Wrestling Match Over Radio Royalties Continues — Introducing the American Music Fairness Act

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Photo Credit: Eric Nopanen

The long-running wrestling match over radio royalties is showing few signs of slowing down, as lawmakers are preparing to introduce the American Music Fairness Act, an answer to the NAB-backed Local Radio Freedom Act.

Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) are set to unveil the legislation at a press conference tomorrow afternoon, the lawmakers announced in a joint release that was shared with Digital Music News. Additionally, “artist advocates” including New Jersey-born singer Dionne Warwick (who received her first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination this year) and Miami-born Sam & Dave co-founder Sam Moore will appear at the event.

The bill itself “is a response to the Local Radio Freedom Act championed by the National Association of Broadcasters,” which represents north of 8,300 traditional radio stations and television stations. Representative Steve Womack (R-AR) and Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL) reintroduced the nearly decade-old legislation early last month.

It bears mentioning here that the Local Radio Freedom Act received bipartisan majority support in the House in August of 2020 – though it was (and is) unclear whether the legislation could pass through the Senate, where just 27 senators (against 223 representatives) voiced approval of the legislation last year.

The Local Radio Freedom Act specifies that “local radio stations provide free publicity and promotion to the recording industry and performers of music” and that “there are many thousands of local radio stations that will suffer severe economic hardship if any new performance fee is imposed.” Plus, the bill points to the “tens of thousands of hours of essential local news and weather information” provided by traditional stations in pushing back against recording fees.

In closing, the three-page-long document states: “Congress should not impose any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge relating to the public performance of sound recordings on a local radio station for broadcasting sound recordings over-the air, or on any business for such public performance of sound recordings.”

Inversely, the initially mentioned American Music Fairness Act will look “to ensure music creators are compensated when their music plays on FM/AM radio stations,” specifically by imposing a per-play fee on the recording side. But the release doesn’t disclose the specifics of the legislation, and with the introduction press conference set for tomorrow afternoon, once again, the bill hasn’t yet become publicly available.

Moving forward, it’ll be worth following this latest development in the lengthy battle over radio royalties – particularly because legislation in favor of recording fees for terrestrial radio as well as a different bill opposed to such a charge are receiving bipartisan support from legislators. Moreover, AM/FM radio remains popular despite the rise of streaming platforms and satellite radio (which pays royalties on both the publishing and recording sides).

Separately, the Ask Musicians For Music Act (“AM/FM Act”), which would require traditional radio stations to “obtain the express authority of the copyright owner” to play recordings, has been stuck in committee since its 2019 introduction.